[OUTLOOK]Learning from Brazil’s leadershipJudging by gross domestic product, Korea has fallen one rank, to 12th, bumped down by Brazil. It came as a shock, but even more alarming is the prospect that it is only a matter of time before Mexico and Russia overtake Korea. What did Korea do wrong and what did Brazil do well? The answer lies in the differences between Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun and Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Both presidents Roh and Lula were elected at the end of 2002, with one important thing in common. Mr. Roh is a populist president who won the election with support from the working class and those who opposed the privileged class. Mr. Lula left school at 12 and started to work as a shoeshine boy. He became a metalworker at 14. He came from the core of the working class.
The Roh administration has pursued heavy tax measures, harassed the United States and stirred up conflict for political purposes by dividing people, 20 percent of the privileged versus 80 percent of the working class. All this was predicted the moment Mr. Roh was elected.
Mr. Lula’s victory in the presidential election also led to predictions of increased social welfare for the lower classes, a foreign debt default and hardship for the top 10 percent of the people, who own more than half the nation’s wealth.
However, the two presidents took different directions. Looking back on the courses they took, President Roh has become a daredevil who has been rushing toward self-reliance while ignoring realistic demands for the country’s economy and national security.
President Lula has become a wise hero who knows where and when to retreat. He has acknowledged problems in Brazil’s economy and boldly broke promises he had made to win support from his base. He retreated from his pledge to purchase land from major landowners and give it to tenant farmers.
He put limits on establishing labor unions, even though they are his major support base. He also changed the pension program for civil workers, which allowed pensioners to receive 100 percent of the salaries they used to get. Following the promise of his predecessor to the International Monetary Fund, President Lula decreased Brazil’s deficits and curbed inflation.
When Mr. Roh was running for president he was once advised to visit the United States, a place he had never been. Mr. Roh said he would not visit the United States only to take photos. Meanwhile, President Lula went to Wall Street in New York right after he was elected and promised that his administration would never pursue anti-market or anti-business measures.
While President Roh has kept hiring the same old-timers for high government positions, President Lula chose as his running mate a politician from an opposition party who was also a businessman in a conglomerate. Mr. Lula employed moderate figures as the heads of the financial, industrial and labor ministries, choosing them based on their capabilities.
President Lula’s transformation is amazing because he is a working-class hero who plunged into the labor movement in 1966. He has since organized countless numbers of labor demonstrations, and went on to create the labor party in 1980. But after he became president, he dressed himself up and went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Lula fear” has turned into the “Lula effect.” Foreign capital that had left the country when Mr. Lula was running for president has come back to Brazil. The meetings of the world’s richest eight nations has started to invite him as a special guest. President Lula leads economic delegations to any country, such as China, that may be interested in investing in Brazil.
Why can’t President Roh transform himself, or retreat from his pledges, as President Lula did? President Lula was able to do so probably because his perspective on the world is based on European rationalism, even though he is not well-educated. Brazil is a part of Europe in a way, because the Portuguese built the country. Brazil started its development in a far more advantageous position than did Korea. Even if Brazil wanted to keep a closed-door policy, there will be limits on that policy.
President Roh is far from being a rationalist, does not know about the outside world and does not even want to know. He is stuck in his narrow idea of self-alliance, the idea espoused by former student activists who fear the outside world. Their abhorrence of the Western world, including the United States and Europe, stems from their inferiority complex.
Korea and Brazil are in different situations. The gap between the rich and the poor in Korea is not nearly as serious as it is in Brazil. For this reason, President Roh does not need to betray his base of support to the extent that President Lula did. All he needs to do is look at things realistically ― half of what Mr. Lula did.
President Roh has called himself a left-wing neo-liberalist. This expression is an oxymoron. But still, it’s good if he means that he would use left-wing policies to fix the unfairness and other problems of neo-liberalism, while using neo-liberalism to correct extreme left-wing ideology.
Self-reliance needs to be interpreted in an unconventional way. It is not a goal, but a means to achieve other goals. While being self-reliant, we need the courage to say yes to the United States and the wisdom to use its strength for the sake of our country.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie